Starbucks on Hiranandani Complex's central avenue but there are few suits from the nearby corporate offices here.
Instead, young men in t-shirts and shorts - and the odd woman - have taken over the cafes, pubs, and restaurants of Powai in what is the most visible sign of the start-up hub that's emerging in this neighbourhood. They cram into the coffee-shop corners that have power sockets and hunch over their laptops in groups of three and four, the tables littered with coffee mugs and the odd Java chip cookie. Words like "leverage" and "scalable concept" float in the cappuccino-infused air.
For the past decade, Powai has been dominated by young families and mid-level executives drawn by the upscale Hiranandani Complex and the emerging business district. But in the past few years, a new demographic of IT and e-commerce entrepreneurs in their twenties or early thirties have also begun making the suburb their home and office. And for some older residents, their presence is infusing a new energy into the area.
"They've made the neighbourhood so much more vibrant," says research scientist at Colgate-Palmolive India, Madhumita Dasgupta, 45, who has lived near Hiranandani all her life. "You see them everywhere. They live, work, socialise here. There's no need to travel anywhere else."
The start-up hub was nurtured in part by IIT Bombay, which feeds it both graduate entrepreneurs and business support through the incubator cell at its Society for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (SINE). But the fact that Powai is something of a self-contained township - and adjacent Kanjurmarg and Chandivli are both proximate and cheap - has been critical in attracting a youthful industry known globally for its antipathy to suits and commutes.
Start-ups cluster in business complexes like the cavernous Powai Plaza, which was populated by real estate brokers and shops just a few years ago, or the swanky Supreme Business Park. These complexes are a ten-minute walk from Starbucks, Aromas and Le Pain Quotidien, the most popular venues for brainstorming mee8tings or investor pitches that go on until late. Homes are close too: workers share apartments outside the expensive Hiranandani area. Three-bedroom flats - usually the hardest to rent out - are suddenly in demand. Says Rahul Khar, vice-president, sales at 99acres.com, "For Powai, this year is going to be the year of the 3BHK."
Those looking to be economical rent homes in Chandivli, Kanjurmarg or Vikhroli, a short auto or bike ride away. "Everything is available within a 2km radius," says Advitiya Sharma, the co-founder of the popular Housing.com. He walks to his office at Supreme Business Park every day. "Your twenties are the most productive time of your lives," he says. "None of us want to waste them in commuting."
Proximity is important in other ways. With teams from different companies frequently crossing paths at work and play, an informal network has emerged. Delivery contacts are swapped and services might be outsourced to the start-up next door. "When we had to build our first website for the business, we worked with a start-up right in this building that did web services," says Vineeta Singh, co-founder of Fab Bag, an e-commerce venture that deals with beauty products and is located in Powai Plaza. "For all our printing, we used Printstop in the same building."
Singh, who is from IIM Ahmedabad, is one of the few women entrepreneurs in this start-up space and Fab Bag is one of the few companies with several female employees. Even when the team works past midnight, as all start-ups here frequently do, home is a five-minute car, auto or scooter ride away (few feel the need to use Ola Cabs, the app-based cab service that was founded in Powai). The gated township quality of the Hiranandani area feels safe, she says. "Hiranandani has its local security."
Fab Bag's office will soon move to Boomerang, a complex in Chandivli. Powai's start-hub is expanding to surrounding areas including Vikhroli and Kanjurmarg. While new start-ups are looking for more affordable spaces, the already successful ones are moving because they need more space. In Powai Plaza, says Fab Bag co-founder Kaushik Mukherjee, "there are days when we feel like moving all the chairs outside."
After expanding rapidly over the past few years, the Powai market has now reached maturity, says Ashutosh Limaye, research head at real estate services firm Jones Lang LaSalle. Most new projects are now clustering in Saki-Vihar Road, Vikhroli or Kanjurmarg, where a 1BHK or 2BHK flat rents for Rs 10-15,000 less. "Powai's periphery is poised to transform still further because of the spill-over effect," says Limaye. "Kanjurmarg, Vikhroli, Saki-Vihar Road, Chandivli-these are the places that we should now be keeping an eye on."
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